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     Work: “We are running a risk of having a generation that does not work. From work comes a person’s dignity.” – Pope Francis, at World Youth Day in Brazil

When I pulled into the Home Depot parking lot, probably 30 men lined the entryway.

Aiming to be friendly, I waved.  This was, after all, Los Angeles, and my license plates were out-of-state.

Immediately, half the men, who appeared to be Hispanics, broke toward my car as I was parking it. As I got out, it was apparent they were friendly and after a limited exchange, I learned they were looking for work.

Think of it. Able-bodied men so eager to work that they wait in line at a big box store.

Contrast that with a recent KELO-TV story that quoted a Sioux Falls landscape owner as saying: “There isn’t anybody here that wants to work.”

He was referring to labor jobs such as landscaping.

So, is the vaunted “work ethic” that we South Dakotans have been touting forever no longer true? Or just for certain kinds of jobs?

“We have applications and then they never show up,” Erik Helland said.  The story did not say what the jobs paid. Helland’s solution is to bring in more immigrants.

Historically, South Dakota’s unemployment rate is low and today stands at about 3 percent.  Labor shortage theoretically drives up wages, but an alternative is to find those who will work for the going rate.

The national debate continues over illegal immigrants and their impact on jobs. One side says immigrants are needed to fill jobs no one else wants. The other says there may be some of that, but they are still here illegally and should follow the rules. Moreover, some employers using illegal immigrants are gaming the system, taking advantage of the immigrants while padding their profit margins with lower wages.

The men in L.A. said they would be willing to do any kind of work, from hauling furniture to shingling a house to painting or pruning.

As I visited with the men, I told them that I didn’t need any help that day, but if a need arose, what was the going rate?  Silence. So I said, “How does $12 an hour sound?” Immediately, two or three of the men nodded affirmatively, but another quickly put in: “We normally get $15.”

“In other words,” I said, “this is negotiable.”

Regardless of where you stand on immigration, illegal immigration, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, it was uplifting to see so many men eager for work, and apparently willing to take whatever was available.

May 23, 2018